Chasing the Chase Home Ownership Center

December 14, 2009, 4:11 pm: I called the Chase Home Ownership Center several times throughout the day but there was no answer, the system was busy, etc. Finally my call to the Chase Home Ownership Center in Media, PA (610) 892-6620 went to a voice mail box. The outbound message advised their hours were Monday – Thursday 10 -7; Friday 9-6 and Saturday 9-1. I left a voice mail with my account number and phone number and said I wanted to make an appointment with a loan officer; I wanted to work out a way to honor my mortgage obligation. 

December 15, 2009, 10:15 am: I called the Chase Home Ownership Center in Media, PA (610) 892-6620 and spoke with Roxanne. I requested an appointment with a loan officer and was advised they “can’t help me”. They deal only with people who are 31+ days past due. I need to call “another department” (866) 550-5705 (the number for Customer Service from the Borrower’s Assistance form). I pressed her to make an appointment and she said they were advisors for a loan modification, I MUST be past due! They can’t talk to me!

Chasing A Loan Modification

December 14, 2009, 10:40 am: Izzy C. from the Consumer Credit and Budget Counseling in Marmora, NJ called and told me that until and unless I was 31 days past due on my loan, they could not help me, although he did give me the number for the Chase Home Ownership Center in Media, PA (610) 892-6620.

Chasing A Chase Loan Modification

December 11, 2009, 11:15 am: I went to the Chase site and downloaded the Homeowner’s Information Packet. It was time to submit another request for a loan modification. By 1:30 pm I’d sent the 46 page packet off by Priority Mail and paid for Delivery Confirmation: I also faxed the same 46 pages to the fax number provided.

Chasing Help With My Chase Loan Modification

December 11, 2009, 11:00 am: I called Congressman Frank LoBiondo’s Mays Landing, NJ offices and spoke with Joan about my situation. Could the Congressman help? Joan suggested I write a letter and gave me some numbers for credit counseling and related assistance. Two of the numbers led right back to the HAMP site so I called the Consumer Credit and Budget Counseling in Marmora, NJ and left a voice mail. A Mr. Izzy C. would call me back.

Taking Care of Business

Chase is in business and I’m a businessperson. I remembered years ago when a business I worked for ran into financial trouble. Our cash flow wouldn’t cover the bills and we feared our creditors would shut us down. For days, weeks and months I made phone call after phone call to each vendor we owed and told them we acknowledged the debt, we did not dispute the debt and we intended to pay the debt, but we needed to work out a payment plan. It was a humbling experience but we worked through it, paying small amounts each week until all of the debts were cleared. Many of those vendors stuck with us for years to follow. Surely Chase would stand by me if I could just work out a payment plan. I needed to talk with someone at Chase.

December 10, 2009, 6:45 pm: I called Chase and spoke with Sheila about pursuing a loan modification. I wanted to work out a payment plan that would both satisfy Chase and allow me to keep my home. Sheila advised that on 6/30/09 I’d been denied a loan modification due to “lack of hardship”. I told Sheila I’d never received a denial letter or any other letter of any kind from Chase/WaMu. I asked if she could fax me a copy of the denial letter and was told she could not do so. I persisted and was transferred to Chris in Loss Mitigation. Chris said a letter was sent on 8/25/09 saying I do not qualify for the Making Homes Affordable program as my “equity exceeds loan guidelines”. I asked Chris for a copy of this letter since I’d never received any letters about anything related to my application for a loan modification, in fact, the only evidence I’d even applied for a modification were my own copies, fax confirmations, postage receipts and phone records.

It could have been a dream sequence although it had really been a nightmare.

I asked Chris if he could fax a copy of the letter. “No”. Could e-mail a copy of the letter, perhaps a pdf? “No”. I offered to send a stamped, self-addressed envelope so he could send a copy at no cost but was again rebuffed. I told him I really needed a copy of the letter – I wanted to show my congressman. I went on to say I was recording the call (meaning I was taking notes) and he said “then I’m going to have to hang up” and he did.

Making Homes Affordable

In December 2009 a senior residential loan officer at a local bank spent an hour with me. He told me right from the get-go his bank was not going to loan me a penny, then he looked at the magazine article and the book and my assets and really listened. He said it would be unethical of him to grant me a loan; I could never pay it. I had to get out from under this and move on. He went on to say he had on his desk four conforming loans for people who were well-qualified and had more assets on hand than the amounts they wished to borrow but even those loans were stuck, sitting with the OCC awaiting approval, and that if he was having a hard time getting these loans approved, my non-conforming loan didn’t have a prayer. He told me my only option was HAMP. He said he’d had to turn down a local policeman who’d been laid off and was collecting unemployment; that man was ultimately able to obtain a loan modification at a 2% interest for a forty-year term. I listened, thanked him for taking the time to speak with me and vowed to myself that if I was ever again in a position to do business with a bank, his small local bank would be first on the list.

I went home to look at the website http://www.makinghomeaffordable.gov/modification_eligibility.html and saw the $ cap of $729,750. Okay, a reach, but maybe this could work. Yes, I owed more than $729,750.00 but I could drain my retirement savings and bring the loan amount due down to hit that number. I’d be penniless but it was still worth doing if I could get a loan modification. I called my investment adviser and told him to tee up for liquidating my retirement savings and then I called back his sharp mortgage broker friend and laid out my plans. He listened carefully and asked where the $729,750. 00 number was coming from. I told him it was on the makinghomeaffordable.gov web site. He informed me that HAMP qualifying numbers are location-based and vary by county; the Cape May County, NJ maximum $ amount was $487,500.00. I could liquidate my retirement savings and my assets and still not bring the loan balance down enough to hit that number. HAMP was not going to work for me.

Learning Curve

Throughout August, September, October and November I went to large banks and small banks, banks I’d done business with in the past (Wachovia, Citizen’s & Sturdy Savings Bank) as well as banks I’d only driven by (1st Bank of Sea Isle City & 1st Colonial National Bank), meeting with residential loan officers to explore any and every possible way to refinance. Could my parents co-sign? Could a friend? Could I do something with home equity against a house I owned? Maybe a reverse mortgage? I also met with mortgage brokers who promised the moon, only to be shot down or not even called back.

I went to my investment advisor to look at raiding my retirement savings and he directed me to his mortgage guy. This guy helped him out when he was going through a divorce and his wife had destroyed his credit – he was a miracle worker. The guy was sharp and professional but there were no miracles for me. His response:  “Yes, you have equity, yes you have assets, but the banks want to see income, it’s all about income and cash flow. You need to cut your losses and move on; there will be other houses.” 

A friend in Florida told me I had to talk to her mortgage guy, he was the best. He took all my information on November 13, 2009 and called back four days later. He said there was absolutely no one who would touch a loan of this size without a comparable salary; did I have any wealthy relatives or stand to inherit any money soon? His advice: “Stop paying your mortgage, now. Write your senator; write your congressmen, there’s going to be a revolution. Mail in your house keys and walk away.” I patiently explained to him that perhaps he wasn’t hearing me correctly. I was not underwater in the loan. I had equity, enough equity that I’d been denied a loan modification, I had assets; my credit rating was decent (701 Equifax, 706 TransUnion, 732 Experian) and I’d never missed a loan payment or even been late. I could drain my retirement savings and hang on, ride this thing out until things turned around and I got a good job again. His reply: “As long as you pay, they won’t play. Stop paying now. So what if there’s a tax lien. That will get their attention. They only address the squeaky wheel. You are not a problem so they won’t work with you, they won’t talk to you, and they’ll just string you along because you are a performing loan. They will bleed you dry and take every penny you have. They just want their money. Stop making payments now.”

But I couldn’t stop paying the mortgage. I had an obligation. Only bad people didn’t pay. Plus I’d ruin my credit rating and never be able to get a loan again. It should have occurred to me that despite my good credit rating, I couldn’t get a loan now, and besides, what did I need a loan for other than a mortgage? I didn’t finance new cars, boats or anything else. I didn’t buy anything new, and I wasn’t about to start. Credit cards weren’t important – I didn’t carry a balance with American Express and used it only for work; the only other card I had was my debit card. 

I met with more loan officers, mortgage brokers, neighbors and friends of friends. I asked anyone I knew to hook me up with a senior loan officer, bank CEO or board member, any introduction where I could meet face to face and work out a way to re-finance. I talked to a lot of people but I didn’t get a loan.

In all that time, from July to November, no letter from Chase/WaMu regarding a loan modification application, review or denial ever arrived. The only thing that arrived with resolute punctuality was the monthly mortgage statement and payment coupon.

Looking for a Loan…and a Job

I rented the house again, took in paying guests when I could, kicked into high gear on freelance work, scrambled to do more yard sales and flea markets and tried to create new employment opportunities when there were none to be had. There were some promising senior-level job leads and even a few phone interviews but each ended prematurely. “The position has been put on hold.” “They’ve decided to go with an incumbent.” “A board member is going to take on the role.” “They met someone outside the recruiting process and fell in love with them.” I could see that executive recruiters weren’t making much money either. A friend ran a spreadsheet calculating my savings and my income to the penny and I saw very clearly that February 2010 would be the last Chase loan mortgage payment I could make in full – my savings would be depleted. I had to figure out how to make this all work.

Game Over

Phoned Chase/WaMu on July 3, 2009 at 9:30 am and spoke with Chris. After verifying all of my contact information Chris advised me that my loan modification request was reviewed two days ago and I did not qualify due to the amount of equity I have in the house. I do not meet the interior department guidelines. A letter of denial has been sent and I may certainly re-apply if “my situation changes” or maybe, he said, I ought to consider selling as they are open to a short sale. He then terminated the call.